Staying in Montclair for older residents can be challenging, especially with rising rents. Since 1990, the Montclair Inn has offered an option for aging in place. The Montclair Inn was started by the Montclair Shared Housing Association when members of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation sought to create affordable housing for seniors who were getting priced out of their homes.
More than 30 years later, the Montclair Inn endures. Residents must be able to manage independent daily living, but are provided with two cooked meals a day, a private room, communal bathrooms, and access to a washer and dryer on the premises. Meals, utilities and laundry are included in the rent. Montclair Inn’s executive director Joy C. Kay conducts interviews for prospective residents, organizes fundraising events and plans activities.
Operating a residence with a vulnerable population during the pandemic was challenging for staff, but fortunately, not a single resident contracted the virus in 2020, in large part due to strict guidelines Kay put in place. Residents were no longer allowed to eat together, visitation rules were changed, and masks were mandatory. There were no COVID cases until 2021.
“Next thing I knew, two or three people got it and one person actually passed away,” said Kay. “In 2022, 10 residents came down with COVID at the same time, but my staff and I got into high gear.” Kay is thankful that, compared to other residential facilities, most cases at the Inn were mild; she believes her faith played a role in sustaining the home during a difficult time.
Along with making sure residents stayed safe, Kay and her staff also create social gatherings that allow residents to interact with one another as well as the larger community. When Kay first started, she partnered with local schools such as Hillside Elementary, Montclair Kimberley Academy and Montclair High School, allowing students to volunteer and offering an opportunity for intergenerational connections.
Residents enjoy movie and game nights and occasionally the Inn’s chef, Robert Wolfe, plans themed meals. One of the residents, Bill Courson, raved about a recent Indian-themed menu created by Wolfe that was “out of this world.”
“Because you’re dealing with an older crowd, older people’s tastes tend to be very conservative. So I’m happy to say I like everything he does,” adds Courson.
Wolfe cooks with all fresh ingredients and uses donations from local food banks. As he plans meals for residents, he tries to be as health conscious as possible. When asked about feedback from residents, Wolfe said when he hears forks scraping against the plates, he knows he did a good job.
Courson, who has lived in Montclair since 1978, moved into Montclair Inn in June 2020 when the home he was renting was going to be sold. Though moving from a home to a single room is different, Courson found the process enjoyable.
“What I didn’t need, I put in storage. I’ll take it out again when the necessity arises. But it’s quite comfortable. Actually, it’s a lot of fun to downsize. It was not hard at all,” Courson said. He also loves that he has friends in the home he can choose to engage with at any time while also having the choice to be alone. When it’s nice outside, Courson spends his time on the back patio, a spot he calls his “office” and works on his holistic healing methodology.
As the holiday season approaches, Kay and her team work to create a season full of gratitude and cheer for her residents.
“If you drive by here, it’s like you’re in the North Pole,” Kay said. Residents decorate the Christmas tree and every room in the home has a festive theme. The Montclair Inn has a big holiday party with an elaborate meal and entertainment. One year, the choir from Kay’s church sang for the residents; another year a saxophonist performed. Santa Claus pays an annual visit to the inn and passes out gifts donated by community volunteers. Starting in November, Kay collects a list from residents of what they would like for Christmas. She then creates a sign up sheet that gets posted to the inn’s social media pages.
“My whole purpose in being the executive director has been to make sure people feel comfortable here, the way I would want my parents to feel comfortable, or if I lived here,” said Kay. “I would want to have nice meals and I would like to have people who care about me around me.”
As a private pay facility, the Montclair Inn depends on both rent from residents and an annual fundraising appeal to continue to sustain their efforts. To donate and learn more about the Montclair Inn, visit here. To keep up with the residents of the inn, find them on Facebook and Instagram.